The biggest car there was
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

I said goodbye to an old friend this week. He could be cranky and have trouble getting going in the morning, especially in cold weather. He was showing his age. He was 13 years old.

He was a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron.

We had been together for a little more than eight years. He was a beater car, the one I drove while my wife drove a new better, nicer car. He still ran pretty well, but I didn't drive him very far anymore, mostly from home to the stadium or around town on short errands. I would have kept him, but we bought a new car.

I'm so emotional that I openly weep during the NFL's United Way commercials, so it was no surprise that I felt a little sad when they hauled away my traveling companion of the past eight years. After all, he had carried me to a lot of sporting events. Just cleaning him out one last time felt like reviewing the last eight years of my career.

The type of car you drive says a lot about you. What you keep in your car says much more.

Ted Williams
In Jim's trunk: a replica figurine of Ted Williams as a fighter pilot.

A Ted Williams fighter pilot action figure. Was Williams the greatest hitter of all time? No one can say for sure but consider this: Teddy Ballgame lost three entire seasons while serving as a Navy flyer in World War II, then lost the majority of two more seasons while serving in the Korean War, and still hit 521 career home runs. He homered in his last at-bat before leaving for Korea in 1952, flew 37 missions, nearly died in a fiery crash landing, earned three air medals, returned home in 1953, took 10 days of batting practice and homered in his first at-bat back.

But what was this action figure doing in my car instead of on the mantel above my fireplace? Hey, what can I say? I'm married.

A picket sign from a six-week long newspaper strike. My rule for any future player strikes: They can only strike if they're willing to hit the pavement with picket signs, the same as every other striking union member. If the cause isn't important enough to do what all other unions do, it isn't important enough to strike.

A poster commemorating Wayne Terwilliger's 50th year in baseball in 1998. Twig was in the first assault waves on Iwo Jima, Tinian and Saipan, sat in disbelief in Brooklyn's dugout when Bobby Thomson homered off Ralph Branca, practiced double plays with Jackie Robinson, singled home the game-winner one day against Satchel Paige, coached for Teddy Ballgame and congratulated Kirby Puckett as he rounded first base after homering to win Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. He plans on being in uniform again for his 55th season. He'll be 78, and I wish I was in half as good shape.

Four ice scrapers. Look, I lived in Minnesota when I got the car, all right?

(My favorite scene from "Fargo"? Not the lunch between Marge and Mike Yanagita, not the customer bitching about the TruCoat sealant on his car ("Yah, but I'm saying, this TruCoat, if you don't get it, you get oxidation problems"), not even the wood-chipper. It's the moment when William H. Macy returns to the snow-covered parking lot after his father-in-law shot down his entire get-rich-quick scheme and mocked his worthiness as a provider for his family. He is humiliated, defeated and despondent. And then, when he has truly been reduced to the absolute low, he has to scrape the ice off his windshield. It's all too much. Broken as a man, he bangs the scraper against the car in utter -- and impotent -- frustration.

(We've all been there, haven't we?)

A walking boot used for a broken foot. Words of advice for Little League outfielders: Even if you're certain you're in better position to catch a flyball and even if you are absolutely certain the center fielder is not going to get to it -- if he calls for the ball, get the hell out of his way. Trust me on this.

A Little League coach's cap. Granted, Dusty Baker had to deal with Barry Bonds for a decade. Granted, Joe Torre must answer to George Steinbrenner. Granted, Frank Robinson guided a team that doesn't have an owner and wasn't supposed to even exist last year to a second-place finish. But you want a managerial challenge? Try explaining to an 11-year-old with awful control why he can't pitch.

Or to a 10-year-old why his mother doesn't want him wearing his shinguards to bed because the buckles shred the sheets.

Or to a 12-year-old girl why she has to wear a protective cup.

A rubber Donald Duck figurine. He's a good-luck charm my sister gave me, and he's kept me safe through tens of thousands of miles and across the country. He goes into the next car.

Lead weight ankle bracelet. I strapped it on every night to rehab a torn posterior cruciate ligament, clumsily injured during a fall while chasing a shuttle van on an assignment covering Gov. Jesse Ventura. It took me three months before I could run on the knee again -- not much softball that summer -- and nearly seven months before I could completely bend it without discomfort. My orthopedist, however, said torn PCLs are frequent injuries for offensive linemen and that they often return to play within two weeks.

Ila Borders
Who would have thought that selling a car would bring back memories of Ila Borders?

Two weeks. We can't even begin to appreciate the pain NFL players endure on a weekly basis.

A half-dozen Marriott pens. Is there a sportswriter alive who actually pays for a pen, instead of swiping them from the hotel?

A T-shirt reading Sosa Lumber Co. and a 1998 St. Paul Saints pocket schedule. I bought the T-shirt at Wrigley Field during the great 1998 home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, one of the greatest things I've had the privilege to cover. I saw McGwire hit 60, 61, 62 and 70, but the most memorable home run I saw that summer was J.D. Drew, at the time a well-publicized and oft-criticized holdout with the independent Saints, homering on a 3-2, bases-loaded pitch in the last inning from Ila Borders.

When the atmosphere is just right and the sky is perfectly clear and you're far enough away from city lights, you can still see the ball orbiting the globe.

Three golf balls. I am not Tiger Woods. These are the only ones that somehow escaped the woods, rough and water hazards.

Multiple tapes of Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" monologues. These and other audio books came in handy after the FM radio suddenly went out last year. It's one thing to listen to a ballgame on the car radio -- is there any sound more comforting than the local broadcaster describing a game on a summer evening? -- but being limited to AM talk radio the other six months of the year is enough to make you remove the driver-side airbag, push the pedal to the metal and drive into a wall. God, are those guys ever content with anything that goes on in the world?

And do yourself a favor. Get a copy of Keillor reading his account of "The Babe Comes to Lake Wobegon." It's the best, most imaginative piece of baseball fiction I've ever heard, outside of the league's annual financial report.

Whoops, miscounted. Make it five ice scrapers.

A blue giveaway bat commemorating Kirby Puckett's 1994 RBI title. There was a time when the only way the Twins could sell tickets was to give away something with Puckett's name or likeness. No longer. Against all odds, the Twins are one of the best teams in baseball. And Puckett faces trial for groping a woman in a public bathroom. What kind of odds would you have given four years ago on those two things ever happening?

$7.60 in quarters and dimes for feeding the meter. I know many people like their big rigs with the leather seats and rear-seat DVDs, but not me. The main thing I'm looking for is a car small and maneuverable enough so it can slip into any available spot on the street downtown. And the LeBaron certainly was that. I was always able to squeeze in somewhere.

Which is not to say it was the smallest car on the road. It wasn't, nor could it be. Not when it was able to hold so much.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for He can be reached at



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